In many applications, it is highly desirable to operate a CO2 laser in a sealed condition, for in an open system the laser requires a continuous flow of laser gas to remove the dissociation products that occur in the discharge zone of the laser, in order to maintain a stable power output. This adds to the operating cost of the laser, and in airborne or space applications, it also adds to the weight penalty of the laser. In a sealed CO2 laser, a small amount of CO2 gas is decomposed in the electrical discharge zone into corresponding quantities of CO and O2. As the laser continues to operate, the concentration of CO2 decreases, while the concentrations of CO and O2 correspondingly increase. The increasing concentration of O2 reduces laser power, because O2 scavenges electrons in the electrical discharge, thereby causing arcing in the electric discharge and a loss of the energetic electrons required to boost CO2 molecules to lasing energy levels. As a result, laser power decreases rapidly.

The primary object of this invention is to provide a catalyst that, by composition of matter alone, contains chemisorbed water within and upon its structure. Such bound moisture renders the catalyst highly active and very long-lived, such that only a small quantity of it needs to be used with a CO2 laser under ambient operating conditions.

This object is achieved by a catalyst that consists essentially of about 1 to 40 percent by weight of one or more platinum group metals (Pt, Pd, Rh, Ir, Ru, Os, Pt being preferred); about 1 to 90 percent by weight of one or more oxides of reducible metals having multiple valence states (such as Sn, Ti, Mn, Cu, and Ce, with SnO2 being preferred); and about 1 to 90 percent by weight of a compound that can bind water to its structure (such as silica gel, calcium chloride, magnesium sulfate, hydrated alumina, and magnesium perchlorate, with silica gel being preferred). Especially beneficial results are obtained when platinum is present in the catalyst composition in an amount of about 5 to 25 (especially 7) percent by weight, SnO2 is present in an amount of about 30 to 40 (especially 40) percent by weight, and silica gel is present in an amount of 45 to 55 (especially 50) percent by weight.

The composition of this catalyst was suggested by preliminary experiments in which a Pt/SnO2 catalyst was needed for bound water to enhance its activity. These experimental results suggested that if the water were bound to the surface, this water would enhance and prolong catalyst activity for long time periods. Because the catalyst is to be exposed to a laser gas mixture, and because a CO2 laser can tolerate only a very small amount of moisture, a hygroscopic support for the catalyst would provide the needed H2O into the gas. Silica gel is considered to be superior because of its property to chemisorb water on its surface over a wide range of moisture content.

The catalyst may be produced by first preparing a mixture of a commercially available, high-surface-area silica gel and an oxidizing agent. The second step is accomplished by preparing an aqueous mixture of the tin (IV) oxide coated silica gel and a soluble, chloride-free salt of at least one platinum group metal. It is beneficial if the coated silica gel is first deaerated by boiling. The platinum group metal salt is adsorbed onto the high surface area and coats the surface. A chloride-free reducing agent is then added to the aqueous mixture whereby the platinum group metal is deposited onto the tin (IV) oxide coated silica gel. After the platinum group metal has been deposited onto the tin (IV) oxide coated silica gel, the solution is evaporated to dryness, whereby the desired catalyst is obtained.

This work was done by Patricia Davis of Langley Research Center; Kenneth Brown, John Van Norman, and David Brown of Old Dominion University Research Foundation; and Billy Upchurch, David Schryer, and Irvin Miller of Science and Technology Corporation. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at under the Materials category. LAR-14155-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2010 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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